The difference between PhDs and startups

(Originally published on The User-Centered Startup blog)

Matt Might, a professor at the University of Utah, created a simple but compelling illustration of what getting a PhD means: making small, but discernable dents in the boundary of human knowledge.

He starts with a circle representing all of human knowledge.

Then shows how each successive level of education brings your closer to the boundary.

Until, finally, you make a dent.

I love this illustration. For me, it clearly depicts how each piece of academic work seems tiny in the grand scheme of things, but contributes to a larger goal.

But there is more than one way to push that boundary. One way, is to take the long, slow hike to the edge and dip a toe over. The other is take a giant leap of assumption. That is what some startups do.

The leap of assumption is inherently risky. There is a very real risk that you won’t land on solid ground. And because, unlike the PhD, you didn’t build a bridge for yourself back to the mainland of human-knowledge, you might find yourself adrift without a paddle.

But there is a chance that you might actually get lucky and find something out there.

Keep pushing. Keep leaping.